As we have just relived the horrors of the September 11th attacks, we have once again seen people declare their loyalties and profess the unity of one America. While the actions of that terrible day two years ago appear to have had root in many variables, religious differences were among the most significant. In light of the hurt and destruction resulting from those differences, this may be a good time to reflect on your understanding of religions that are different from your own.
While most Americans believe in God, we worship and practice our faith in a myriad of ways. Yet we don’t always live our faith when it comes to tolerance toward those who practice their faith in other ways. We live and work among people of many different denominations – Christians, Jews, Muslims, Buddhists, and Hindus, among others. If we value difference, it is useful to learn more about others’ cultures and religions.
The Jewish New Year celebration of Rosh Hashanah started Friday, September 26 at sundown. The year is now 5764 on the Hebrew calendar. Rosh Hashanah is also known as the “Day of Remembrance,” when it is said that the gates of heaven are open. Rosh Hashana ushers in the 10 Days of Awe, a time of reflection and rededication to God. Jews vow to purify their actions and reconcile with others. The 10-day season closes with Yom Kippur, the most important holy day of the Jewish year, observed by most Jews in fasting and spending the day in temple. Yom Kippur is known as the Day of Atonement – a day to consciously reconcile your wrongdoings between yourself and God as well as yourself and others. To atone for sins against another person, you must first seek reconciliation with that person, and if possible, right the wrongs you committed against them. That should be done before Yom Kippur.
Perhaps now would be an interesting time to reflect for yourself on the awe you find in the universe. Consider with whom you need to reconcile yourself and how the world might change if you did. Every action begins with first steps. Gathering accurate information about someone who is different is often the first step in improving a relationship. After speaking with several Jewish friends and visiting a few websites, I learned a little more than I knew about High Holy Days for Jews.
About a year ago, the Associated Press carried an example of how citizens in Idaho are seeking greater learning and understanding of Jewish history. It reported that, “Idaho – the longtime home of the Aryan Nations and other white separatist groups – has been planning the Anne Frank Human Rights Memorial since 1995. Built by the private Idaho Human Rights Education Center, the memorial was dedicated in Boise, Idaho. The push for a permanent memorial began after 50,000 people visited an Anne Frank exhibit there in 1995. The plan evolved into a broader look at human rights and gained the support of Idaho children, who collected thousands of pennies. It also garnered the contribution of philanthropist Greg Carr, who donated $500,000. The statue of Anne Frank stands inside a replica of the attic where the Jewish teenager hid from the Nazis.”
The children of Idaho are continuing to gather additional information that will ideally help more people in our global society practice the peace and accord most religions promote. If children can go this far, certainly we, as adults can do as much, or more.
A high point for me in my relationship with a friend who is Jewish was attending her daughter’s Bat Mitzvah, a ritual of passage for Jewish thirteen-year-olds. Even something as simple as how we conduct public prayers like invocations and benedictions could be made more inclusive of others’ religious beliefs and practices. What could be your first step to awe and reconciliation? Could you visit the churches, synagogues, and mosques outside your religion in your neighborhood? What about starting a comparative religion class that would open a dialogue among your neighbors in each of these facilities? Perhaps there are nondenominational groups such as the National Conference for Community and Justice (www.nccj.org) that you can contact about local resources. You might ask what policy your company has to accommodate the needs of people with different holy days than the dominant culture. Or you may commit to using positive language that respects the traditions of other faiths.
No matter what our religious difference, we each deserve respect. Respect is the cornerstone for building and sustaining healthy relationships. Start building a dialogue with others who may be different from you. Take the first step toward unity and harmony where you live and work.